Belmont Club

A Valentine from Maxwell's Demon

Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had.

So begins the most famous of James Hilton’s novels, The Lost Horizon. Today of course, we know — at least we are told — that there is no Shangri-la. The most astonishing thing about the 1933 bestseller is the realization that people once longed for a place where they could pursue happiness away from the dictates of bureaucrats. But people in those days were living in the lengthening shadow of Fascism so their desire for escape was understandable. We who live in a more enlightened age have no need of such crutches.

We’ve got everything we need — dozens of “positive rights” and more to come. For the uninitiated, “positive rights” are different from the old American kind in that they define what government must do to you instead of enumerating what government cannot do to you. Strange that people once thought that individual freedom was desirable.

Thus our modern paradise is not some mountain valley but a place where we can collect government benefits. Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein, writing in the New York Times, inform us frankly that “All Rights Are Positive … Liberty Depends on Taxes.”

The opposition between two fundamentally different sorts of claim–between “negative rights” such as those granted in Roe and “positive rights” such as those denied in Maher–is quite familiar. But it is anything but self-evident. It does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, for one thing. It was wholly unknown to the American framers….

Upon inspection, the contrast between two fundamental sorts of rights is more elusive than we might have expected, and much less clear and simple than our Supreme Court has assumed. … The financing of basic rights through tax revenues helps us see clearly that rights are public goods: taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being. All rights are positive rights.

Unfortunately due to the workings of Maxwell’s Demon all Positive Rights cost money. Maxwell’s Demon, for those who’ve forgotten, was a hypothetical arrangement whereby a process can get a free lunch by simply using information to sort things out. But it’s long been shown that information provision needs energy too and therefore also costs money, as the contractors for Obamacare will testify.

And so alas, do Sunstein’s rights. The need to provide ever-increasing positive rights — for our modern Shangri-la — requires more and more money. This has spurred European Union officials to propose seizing personal savings to fund additional investments in our paradise on earth.

(Reuters) – The savings of the European Union’s 500 million citizens could be used to fund long-term investments to boost the economy and help plug the gap left by banks since the financial crisis, an EU document says.

The EU is looking for ways to wean the 28-country bloc from its heavy reliance on bank financing and find other means of funding small companies, infrastructure projects and other investment.

“The economic and financial crisis has impaired the ability of the financial sector to channel funds to the real economy, in particular long-term investment,” said the document, seen by Reuters.

The Commission will ask the bloc’s insurance watchdog in the second half of this year for advice on a possible draft law “to mobilize more personal pension savings for long-term financing”, the document said.

Like Sunstein said: liberty depends on taxes.  And where the EU goes their American imitators are sure to follow. Which brings us of course from Shangri-la to the subject of Valentine’s Day, which happens to be today. Valentine’s Day is one of those vestigial Christian holidays which cries out for re-examination. In its original conception, Valentine’s Day celebrated the individual and God. It should discarded in favor of a celebration of the collective.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards says "be my Valentine"

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards says “be my Valentine”

We can always use one more Positive Right, and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s than Free Abortion?  (Though Maxwell’s Demon guarantees it isn’t really free).  This equivalence between money and positive rights means that for those who still believe in Shangri-la should avoid the Himalayas. Try the Grand Cayman Islands. The tax lawyers are much better there.

Parenthetically, James Hilton wrote one other bestseller. It was titled Goodbye, Mr. Chips about the life of a mediocre master of Greek and Latin in a small boys school in England. Though set far from the Himalayan mountains, it is also about the stubborn search for a Shangri-la. The inward one we carry inside us, furnished about with the love that we lose, the memories we have yet to lose and the dreams that we stubbornly revisit, despite the best efforts of the positive rights crowd to make us forget.

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And as for Conway …

We sat for a long time in silence, and then talked again of Conway as I remembered him, boyish and gifted and full of charm, and of the war that had altered him, and of so many mysteries of time and age and of the mind, and of the little Manchu who had been “most old,” and of the strange ultimate dream of Blue Moon. “Do you think he will ever find it?” I asked.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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